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One Night with the Texan

By:Lauren Canan

One

Cole Masters descended the steps of the hotel after his business meeting, bodyguards in tow, and walked toward the waiting limo that would take him to the airport and back to Dallas. The deal he was here to finalize had gone without a hitch. He’d actually been hoping the other party would voice some objections, stir things up a bit. But it had gone down as just another dull and boring merger.

Cole stopped and looked around him. The late-afternoon sun felt good on his face. New Orleans. The Big Easy. It had been years since he’d ventured into the French Quarter with all its laughter and music, but he remembered it fondly. Suddenly something snapped inside and he walked to the waiting car.

“Find out where there’s a thrift store. Something like Goodwill.”

“Sir?”

“Just do it, please.”

The driver disappeared inside the car and returned minutes later with an address.

“Excellent. Can you take me there?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Gene, you and Marco are dismissed,” he said to the security detail. “The plane is waiting in Concourse D. Use it and fly home.”

“Mr. Masters, I don’t know if this is such a good idea.”

“It’ll be fine. Have the pilot back here by tomorrow afternoon.”

Cole got into the limo. “Let’s go shopping,” he told the driver and they were off, leaving the two bodyguards standing at the edge of the street staring after him as though he’d lost his mind. And maybe he had. He wanted to be wild, live in the moment, free of obligations to anyone or anything. Blend in with the other pedestrians and enjoy the few hours he’d allotted himself.

He was tired. Tired of the yes-men who would agree with anything he said. Tired of people using him. Tired of the same corporate demands, the same schemes. He’d grown weary of knowing what questions would be asked and knowing the answers before words ever left the person’s mouth. He was especially tired of being hostage to the family’s business negotiations. The image he was required to maintain had come to feel like a chain around his neck. He couldn’t free himself from it. He couldn’t get a reprieve. Consequently he knew he had become hard and bitter. He heard words come from his mouth he didn’t recognize as his own. People were starting to distance themselves from him and he didn’t blame them. Cynical, suspicious, contemptuous; he sometimes saw himself through others’ eyes and didn’t like what he’d become. As the CFO of a successful 8.2 billion-dollar family conglomerate, he took no pride in his accomplishments.

After purchasing jeans, T-shirt, jacket and a pair of scuffed shoes, he dismissed the driver, changed his clothes and hit the streets where hopefully no one would recognize him and subsequently no one would ask anything of him. He would let his soul get lost in the music and the ambience that is only New Orleans.



The man looked every bit as daunting up close as he had from a block away. The hard features of his wickedly handsome face bore the stamp of experience: a complete awareness of the world around him and those in it. Even in the increasing darkness, illuminated only by small twinkle lights strung over the outside tables at the bistro, that much was obvious. The dark, chocolate-brown hair with lighter highlights seemed to accent the golden brown of his eyes. Eyes that tempted her to look closer. To come closer without any rational thought of the consequences.

His lips were full, sensuous, made for seduction. She couldn’t stop herself from imagining what it would be like to feel them moving over her own; feel his hands caress her body as the heat between them intensified. His skills in bed would be amazing. How she knew, she couldn’t answer. But she knew.

Tallie Finley sensed he would be a formidable opponent. He was tall, powerfully built, dressed in a pair of jeans that had seen better days, a black T-shirt with some faded design on the front and a black jacket that appeared too large—an amazing feat when one considered the breadth of his shoulders. He impressed her as a man who had at one time owned the world and lost it. But not without a fight.

“What’s next?” Kate “Mac” McAdams asked, polishing off the last of her glass of wine.

“Beads. We cannot go home without earning our beads,” Ginger Barnes stated.

Leaving the stranger behind—again, because it seemed that everywhere she went tonight, he was there—Tallie followed her two friends out to Bourbon Street to experience the “Beads for Boobs” tradition, knowing it was one she would pass up.

Once they’d climbed the stairs to their second-story hotel room, Tallie made her way out to the balcony railing and looked down into the crowds below. The people in the adjacent apartment were already vying for their beads. Guys on the street held up ropes of the shiny multicolored necklaces for display, tempting the girls on the balcony to remove their tops and show all.

Street musicians vied with the jazz and R & B pouring out the open doors of bar-and-grills in a manner you’d think would clash. But not here. Not in this amazing city. The air was full of laughter, drunken wolf whistles, woots and cheers, the flamboyant colors of the clothes and the scent of spices and food cooking over open grills. It was a world like none other and Tallie was front and center. She would miss it when it was time to leave and begin her new research appointment in Texas.

“Don’t just stand there,” called Ginger, her closest friend and roommate for the past six years during college and grad school. “You’ve got ’em, girl. Use ’em!”

“Right on,” Mac encouraged. She made up the third of the trio. She’d flown to the Big Easy just to celebrate with her best friends.

“I don’t think so,” Tallie refused. “But don’t let me stop you.”

“Oh, you won’t,” Mac answered with a wink. “If you’re chicken, I’ll go first. I’ve got to get some of those beads.”

“You do know you can buy them in the local stores?”

“Yes, but where’s the fun in that?”

With her hips gyrating to the heavy beat reverberating off the walls, the blonde teasingly danced her way out to the balcony edge and began to unfasten her shirt, button by button. The crowd below began to clap and yell even louder.

If you blinked, you missed it. But apparently it was enough because men quickly threw strings of various colored beads up to her. Tallie watched in disbelief as Ginger did the same thing. Then both her friends looked at her.

Tallie shook her head. “I’m gonna pass. This just isn’t my thing. And frankly, I’m surprised at the two of you doing something this...bizarre.”

“Do you mean to tell me you’re going out in the world—about to start your new career with a Ph.D. in your pocket—and you’re going to let this amazing memory slip by?” Ginger had to yell to be heard over the crowd and the music. She giggled and downed the rest of her drink.

Tipsy. They were both tipsy and headed to full blown smashed.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” she laughed. No way would she ever be so intoxicated she would shake her boobs in front of a hundred people from a second-story balcony. What had gotten into her studious, straight-laced friends? She could understand blowing off steam after all the hard work they’d done to get their degrees, but still. “Come on. There has to be someplace we haven’t been yet.” She led the others down the stairs back to the street. “I feel like dancing.”

“I could do some dancing,” Ginger agreed. “Give me a sultry, sexy tune anytime. Here—” Ginger looped several strands of beads over Tallie’s head “—you gotta have some finery if you want to be asked to dance.”

“She’s right,” Mac added as she draped more strands of beads around Tallie’s neck. “Now it looks like we’re all daring and ready to get down.”

Get down? Tallie could only imagine.

“Anybody have a suggestion? I’m guessing this being a Friday night, the better pubs and lounges are full,” Ginger sighed.

“I saw lines of people waiting to get in a couple of places on our way back here,” Mac added. “But there has to be someplace we can go.”

“Wait, wait. I heard some people talking at the bistro about a place on the outskirts of the Quarter they thought was good. The Gator Trap Bar and Grill. It’s on Bourbon Street down toward St. Ann. I want to try a drink they mentioned called the Horny Crock.” Ginger giggled. “Or the Swamp Itch.”

“That sounds bad,” the other two chimed in.

“I didn’t name them. But I could sure drink one. Or two!”

After agreeing on the next destination, they refreshed their drinks at a street vendor and headed down Bourbon.

If there was a bar in New Orleans moodier and more atmospheric than the Gator Trap, Tallie couldn’t imagine what it must be like. The place was dark. There were candles on each table and lights heralding the yuletide season that had ended five months ago still hung over the large mirror behind the bar. They provided the only light. The soulful sax, trumpet, piano and bass coming from the quartet in the back of the room pulled you in.

While Ginger and Mac headed for the ladies’ room Tallie slipped onto a seat at the bar.

“What can I get you?” the bartender asked as he removed two dirty glasses from in front of her and wiped the countertop. Tallie gave her order.

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